Pastor Rankin Wilbourne shares his heart on the reasons for his sabbatical, and on his hopes for Pacific Crossroads while he is away.
Dear Pacific Crossroads Family,
Yesterday, Sunday June 5, I shared in my sermon that I have asked the elders of our church for a sabbatical, and they have graciously granted my request. So from July through December of this year, I will be on sabbatical.
What is a sabbatical? A sabbatical is not a vacation. It is an intentional time away from the regular duties of pastoral work for deep-soul rest and spiritual renewal.
Why am I taking a sabbatical? This coming fall will mark ten years that I have been at Pacific Crossroads, and in that time the church has changed considerably. In many ways, though, I find myself paddling just as furiously as I did when I was a single, entrepreneurial, church-planter. But I’m not a single man anymore. I got married and we had three kids.
Then, what may have really pushed me to my limits – I wrote a book. It’s coming out on July 1, and it’s entitled Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God. It’s exciting, because I think the recovery of union with Christ is so important for the church at large. But writing a book, on top of doing all the other things I love to do, I wore myself thin to the point that I was leading on empty. I want to be poured out for Christ, but not burned out.
One of the symptoms by which I can see how tired I’ve become is the gap I’ve been noticing between the words I’m preaching and the experiential sense in my own heart of Christ’s presence to strengthen me. The lifeblood of a teacher’s true effectiveness, long term, is his or her own integrity. You can’t give away what you do not possess.
Perhaps even more concerning, I’ve tried to close this gap through my own efforts, my own flesh, and my own ego. To the point that, from my vantage point, there was more evidence of the gifts of the Spirit in my life than the fruit of the Spirit. My deep pride has manifested itself in impatience, more often using the church to prop up my fragile sense of self worth, rather than resting in Christ alone for my identity.
What am I going to do for six months? I don’t know how to rest. I too often live for the praise of man rather than the praise of God (John 12:43). I need to learn how to be still and sit quietly before Jesus. I need to learn how to live in my true identity as God’s beloved son, not just His servant.
What are my fears for this time? So much of my identity is rooted in my competency in my work. It’s hard to imagine where that confidence will come from when my work is out of my hands. I don’t know who I will be without my work – and I write that as a confession of sin.
Another fear, of course, is how my time away will affect our church. In my pride, I wonder, Will things fall apart? Though the church belongs and has always belonged to Jesus, in many ways it feels like my baby. And it’s hard to let go.
One fear I don’t have, in case you are wondering, is about my marriage or family. Morgen and I have never been closer. But she too has long sensed that I need to slow down.
What are my hopes for this time? As difficult as it will be to lay down my idols of work, control, and professional competence, I am full of hope – for myself and for our community.
I truly believe this will be a sweet season for our community. I’m excited for our leaders and for our whole church to step into even greater levels of ownership – for each person to see how essential you are for our church’s true health. It is dangerous for any church to depend too much on any one preacher. It’s not healthy. For anyone.
I hope this will be a time for renewed commitment. I hope that more people at Pacific Crossroads will say, “This is my community. This is my imperfect family in Los Angeles. This is where I seek to serve Christ.”
This season will be a wonderful reminder that when we gather, it’s not the preacher of the word that matters, but the preaching of the word (1 Cor. 3:7); and that what matters even more is the quality of our love for one another (John 13:35).
There is only one person we need to hear from each week, only one we need to see, only one who is essential, and that is Jesus. Christ is and has always been the center. Jesus is the only person necessary for Pacific Crossroads to flourish. And to the degree we lose sight of that, our work is in vain (Ps. 127:1).
Our June series, “We the Church,” is a time for us to recover our bearings and remember who we are. One member said to me yesterday, “Hearing that you were going away made me more excited about church than I’ve been in years.” That’s it exactly!
I also hope that our community can grow in our ability to celebrate rest and embrace vulnerability. I pray that God will use this season to sing a new song at Pacific Crossroads, to stir us to repent and lead our city – not with our competence, but with our weakness – that Christ might be exalted among us. It’s my dearest hope that people will say, “Rankin, that time when you were away – that was the best time in our church’s life!”
It is my deepest privilege to be your pastor, and I will miss dearly standing before you on Sundays.
Please pray for me during this time, for my soul’s health, peace, and joy. Be assured that I will be praying for you as well.
Lastly, thank you for this great gift you are giving to me and to my family!